I’ve written before that I wasn’t too fond of Pit Bulls before I fell head over heels for Axle. When Axle came to live with us, I tried to learn everything I could about the breed, and quickly got lost in the pros and cons, the attack stories, the nanny-dog stories, and the lover-not-a-fighter campaigns. I didn’t want anyone being afraid of my dog. I wanted Axle to be Wonder Dog.
From everything I read, I learned that Axle had to be trained. I don’t mean just basic training, either. I’m talking full on sit/stay/roll over/bring me my slippers/count-to-five kind of training. He should never jump on people, should always sit before being petted, and should never ever show any sort of dog or human aggression (barking, growling, snapping). If he did any of those things, he would be a bad dog, and people would hate Pit Bulls because of my dog.
I trained him as much as I could, and then enlisted a professional to curb his worst habits and kickstart his career as a breed ambassador. We had a great trainer named Victoria. She didn’t say anything about his breed. She didn’t tell me anything special I had to do with him, but I was still convinced that Axle and I had to go above and beyond to PROVE he was a good dog.
With her help, we curbed his jumping habit. He mastered “sit” and “down,” and he learned the take it/leave it/drop it commands like a champ. He graduated second in his class of two and sat semi-still for a graduation photo.
We would take him to local pet stores and Tractor Supply for social time. He did great with almost everyone he met. The few people he didn’t like would be greeted with a distrustful stare and a low growl. Of course, I would get onto him for this behavior.
I decided it was time for him to move forward with his training, so I signed him up for a therapy dog course. If he was a certified therapy dog in nursing homes, hospitals, and perhaps with children, no one could say he was a bad dog, right?
We went to the first therapy dog class with high hopes. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go as planned. There was another large dog in the group who kept staring at Axle, and he would growl in response. The trainer was quick to point out that he was “behaving like a Pit Bull” and used him for a lot of what-not-to-do examples.
When I took Axle to the vet for his yearly vaccines and the required tests for becoming a therapy dog, he cowered at the sight of the thermometer, the stethoscope, and the vet’s flowing skirt. He also showed fear when they changed the trash bag in the room. That quickly ended his career as a therapy dog.
Still hoping that Axle would be a breed ambassador, I decided to continue home-training and sign him up for the Canine Good Citizen course next time it was available in my area.
One day, I was walking Axle and Remi through our neighborhood when I saw one of our newest residents coming out of her yard with her dog. It was too late to turn around, so I quickly let her know mine weren’t dog-friendly. She kept her distance, but she wanted to chat since we had never had a chance to meet before.
Axle and Remi were both straining against their harnesses toward the dog, and he was straining back. Being that my two were on a coupler, every time Axle or Remi pulled on the leash they would crash into one another.
All of the stimulation became overwhelming for Axle and he turned on Remi. He didn’t hurt her, but he sure yelled a lot in dog language. The woman and her dog moved on, and her husband came outside to offer his help. Axle quickly let him know he didn’t need any help, and that he would appreciate him maintaining at least a five-foot distance. I was incredibly embarrassed.
“He looks like he has some Pit in him,” the man commented. I replied that he was an American Pit Bull Terrier, and quickly apologized for his behavior. The man would hear none of it. “I have no problem with a dog protecting his owner,” he said. He went on to say that they hadn’t had their dog very long, and he had just recently been neutered, which could account for some of the reaction, but certainly not all.
I took my dogs home feeling like I had a very bad dog indeed.
I was mulling the incident, as well as everything that Axle has been through in his life (including multiple attacks and watching helplessly from his crate while a thief repeatedly took things from our house) when it hit me.
Axle is still a great dog. He listens to me, except in a situation where he believes there is danger. He makes my safety a top priority, he’s great with the friends and family we have over, and he gets along great with the circle of dogs who he trusts. Wouldn’t any dog behave just like him, if not worse, if they had experienced the same things he had? Of course they would!
Axle is a dog. There’s no reason he should have to be perfectly behaved. I do the responsible thing -– I let other dog owners know that Axle is a Dog in Need of Space, and we avoid dog parks. All things considered, I think Axle is a jam-up dog. He gets along great with our other dog and cats, and he’s learning not to overwhelm guests with his affection. He finally graduated his crate and has only destroyed part of the couch.
He’s not a breed ambassador, but he’s mine, and I think he’s perfect!
More articles by Meghan Lodge:
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